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speak of, is often betwixt the kind of affliction and our own sins.
Adly. When a man is driven by force from the comforts of the world, which he used to hinge upon, especially by some great affliction which breaks him off from them all, then, if he have any thoughts concerning God, those begin to work with him. He bethinks himself for no other way of help, but thinks, Could I obtain the Lord to befriend me, and shew me His favour, that were enough. He could deliver me out of this distress, and in the mean time support me under it. True, I have provoked Him, and, which is heavier than all my other troubles, I have made Him mine enemy; yet, I know He is very compassionate and gracious, therefore I will go to Him, and confess my offence, and I trust He will pardon me. This is the other thing, the seeking of His face. So, affliction hath something in it suitable to the work of both. As we see, the lost son by his distress came to himself, and then resolved to return to his father. Indeed, when a man is straitened on all hands by a crowd of troubles, and finds no way out, then he finds his only way is upward. We know not what to do, but our eyes are towards Thee. The Israelites went before to other helpers; they are reproved for it, ver. 13; but when once convinced of that folly, no more of any such way, but, as follows in the next words containing a description of their purposes, Come, let us return to the Lord our God, they acknowledge Him as the just inflicter of these calamities : He hath torn, and He hath smitten. Not a word of Salmanazer or Nebuchadnezzar, but their offended God is their smiter, and so, no recourse to other powers for this deliverance, but, Let us return to Him; He will heal us. Oh, then, let us all be persuaded to repentance. And certainly, all they who do truly mind the honour of God, and the good of His Church, will not be negligent at such a time as this. I trust, that God who heareth prayer, will have regard to their prayers and His own glory. Amen.
ISAIAH viii. 17.
And I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of
Jacob, and I will look for Him.
BESIDES the personal trials and sorrows that are the lot of the godly in this life, every one of them hath a share in the calamities and troubles of the Church; not only when some part of these troubles reaches them, for so they are personal and private, but, in the remotest and most exempted condition, there is a living sympathy which this cannot divest. And for both their own and Zion's griefs, they have but one support to stay their souls from fainting under the burden of them, but it is a great one, and strong enough to bear all the weight that can be laid upon it. And it is this the Prophet here resolves on. I will wait upon the Lord, and I will look for Him.
Amongst the many sins that the prophets had to contend with in the people, one, and a main one, was, their unbelief, which indeed is the root of all disobedience and perverseness. The very natural motion of the heart possessed with it, being, as the Apostle speaks, to depart from the living God, and to turn it aside to dead, helpless helpers, makes it run to and confide in any thing rather than in Him, besides whom there is nothing at all to be confided in. To this folly, the Prophet here opposes God's command and his own resolution contrary to it: ver. 11. For the Lord spake thus to me, and this was the echo of His voice, resounding from my heart, I will wait. And this he speaks not only for himself, but in the name of all that will adhere to it, and subscribe to his purpose; and he intends it as a leading resolution to the godly both in his own and after-times. And it is here upon record
for us, as the truest character of faith, and the only establishment of the mind in the days of trouble.
And this is the most powerful way of teaching, when the messengers of God teach by their own example, those duties they recommend to others. The Lord spake thus to me, with a strong hand : not only with the words of His mouth, but with the strength of His hand, He makes the impression of it deep upon their hearts, that the expression of it may come from that inward impression and persuasion of the truth. And that will indeed bind a man strongly (as the word signifies) to the discharge of that high calling, notwithstanding all his discouragements from within and from without, which are so many, that they who have most sense of the nature of it, would possibly undo themselves, were it not the strong hand of God upon their consciences, that binds them to it.
In the words we have to consider, 1st. The trial of faith. 2dly. The strength of it. The trial of it is in the hiding of God's face from the house of Jacob. . The strength of it, is in that fixed purpose of waiting for Him, even in that time of hiding His face.
Who hideth His face.) To a natural ear, this soundeth not so much as fire, and sword, and pestilence, and captivity; but, being rightly understood, it is the heaviest word, and very far weighs down all other expressions of distress whatsoever. 'It is a very large, comprehensive word. All the good that we enjoy in any kind, is but a beam of the face of God; and therefore, the hiding of His face, is a high expression of a dark, afflicted state. The countenance of God shining on them in His universal providence and goodness, is that which, upholds the world and all the creatures in their being: the least of them subsists by Him, and the greatest cannot subsist without Him. So that the schools say truly, “ There is in the lowest, aliquid Dei, and in the highest, aliquid nihili.” He, shines upon all in that sense, preserving them in being, which otherwise would not continue for a moment; as it is excellently
expressed, Psalm civ. 29, and particularly concerning man, Psalm xc. 3; Job xxxiv. 13-15.
But the Church of God, which we have here under the name of the house of Jacob, doth after an especial manner depend upon a special aspect of His countenance for her being and well-being. Her outward peace and prosperity, with all the blessings that she enjoys, are fruits of a more than ordinary providence. And there are blessings in their nature not ordinary, but peculiar to the Church, which have more of the face of God in them than all outward splendour of prosperity hath, and therefore are the special love-tokens He bestows upon His spouse, the Church, and by which He testifies His marriage with her. And that is the being of a church, the oracles and ordinances wherein God manifests Himself to His church, makes Himself known there as by His face, which is hid from the rest of the world. And though, in comparison of the vision of glory, the clearest, even extraordinary manifestations of God, are but a glance of His back parts, (as that of Moses, which was singular,) yet, in such a sense as suits our present condition, we are said to appear before the Lord, and to stand in His presence, and to see His face, and the beauty of it in His house and ordinances. Psal. xlii. 2; xxvii. 4, &c.
It is true, that the outward distresses of the Church and people of God, are sometimes expressed by the hiding of His face from them, and so it is a part of what he means here ; but it is not all the sense of it any where, but it is a word of their affliction, carrying a reflection upon their sin that provoked the Lord to afflict them, and so, implies His just anger kindled by these provocations. And it hath usually the ingredients of spiritual judgments under it, either the depriving them of God's ordinances in their use, or of the power and efficacy of them, (as was at this time, we see, the Prophet's complaint,) and possibly, a great measure of that heavy judgment upon people, of blindness of mind and hardness of heart, a stupid senselessness under their calamities, which is one of the most certain and the saddest signs of their continuance. And this is the Prophet's meaning in this place. For without these, or something like them, a church may be in great affliction, and yet, not under the eclipse of God's face for all that. Yea, possibly it may shine clearer on the Church in a time of outward trouble than in the midst of peaceable and prosperous days; as the moon, when it is dark towards the earth, then the half that is towards heaven, is all luminous, and, on the contrary, when it is the full to our view, it is dark heavenward. We see it in the common instance of the primitive times, how the gold shined in the furnace, how holiness and purity of religion flourished and spread in the midst of persecutions, and zeal for God burnt brighter than the fires that were kindled against it, and triumphed over them; and soon after they were put out, how it began to cool and abate, and the purity of religion insensibly died into numbers of superstitious and gaudy devices; and the Church grew downwards, outwardly more pompous, but lost as much for that of integrity of doctrine and worship. And therefore, in the twelfth chapter of Revelations, there is a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, as full of heavenly ornaments as she is destitute of, and withal despises, those of the earth. And look, again, to the eighteenth chapter, and see a woman clothed in purple, and decked with gold and precious stones, and a golden cup in her hand, but herself, under all these dressings, a harlot, and her golden cup full of abominable filthiness. So, then, doubtless, the hiding of God's face from His Church, is something beyond her outward lowness and affliction, and greater and heavier than that; the withdrawing of His presence, and His not appearing for their deliverance out of trouble, and their spiritual comfort and benefit under it.
1st. Now, as that is put for the top of all distresses, we should esteem it so. But in reference to ourselves, and to the Church of God, I am afraid a great part of us do not know what it is to have this light. If we did, there needed no more urging it: itself would persuade us enough to prize it, and to